During Black History Month, what better way to celebrate Afro Latinos than by honoring some of the artists that continue to carry the torch lit by the early queens and kings of Latin music?
If there is one thing that Latinos are known for around the world, it is music: bachata, cha-cha-cha, conga, funk carioca, mambo, pachanga, reggaeton, rumba, son… And that’s just for starters!
What do all these rhythms have in common? They are born from the music of West Africa, where a majority of those enslaved in the Americas came from, combined with an indigenous or Spanish infusion. The result is an intoxicating blend of brass and percussion, marimba or timbales that make for a unique sound whether originating in Cuba or Puerto Rico, or Colombia to Brazil.
With the advent of recordings and television, many Afro Latinos became Latin music royalty, with queens like Celia Cruz, La Lupe, and Susana Baca, and kings like Tito Puente, Compay Segundo, Ibrahim Ferrer, Bebo Valdéz, and Bola de Nieve, among many others taking their rhythms around the world.
At the same time, these superstars influenced the next generations of Latino and Spanish musicians.
Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine’s “Conga,” for example, evolved from the rumba cubana of the late 19th century, and features large and heterogenous percussion sections performing syncopated rhythms. The sound that cut across race and genre to become a worldwide sensation, had its roots firmly planted in Africa.
These five artists are a small sample of many who’ve fused Afro Caribbean elements in their music and made it popular around the world as they continue to carry the torch lit by the early queens and kings of Latin music.
1. Romeo Santos: Before branching out as one of the most successful Latin artists of all time mainly singing bachata and merengue, the Dominican Puerto Rican idol started in the bachata group Aventura. He also brings his unique Afro Latino blend to mixes to pop and has collaborated with Usher and Nicki Minaj.
2. Orishas: The pioneering hip-hop group mixes the Afro Cuban religious tradition of Santería (hence the name Orishas, supernatural entities usually referred to as deities in the Yoruba religion) with urban music and traditional Cuban son. Their politically charged songs include “Represent,” “Emigrante,” and “Gladiadores,” which tells the story of a group of balseros (rafters) trying to escape the communist island.
3. ÌFÉ: Leader Mark Underwood, best known as Otura Mun, is a priest in the Yoruba faith (a predecessor of Santería). This group mixes Dancehall and Electronica with Afro-Caribbean music. Hits include “Umbo (Come Down),” “Prayer for Shangó,” “Voodoo Economics (Wolf Man).”
4. Ileana Cabra “Ile”: Best known as PG-13 from the legendary Puerto Rican group Calle 13, Ile branched out as a soloist and launched her boleros, bugalú and Spanish folk infused album. “Te Quiero Con Bugalú,” “Caníbal,” and “Odio” are some of her hits.
5. Ozuna: With his record-breaking movimiento music, pioneering singer, songwriter, and rapper Juan Carlos Ozuna Rosado, known by his surname Ozuna, centers his Blackness intentionally. Also called the “New King of Reggaeton” and “el negrito de los ojos claros,” he steers clear of misogynistic lyrics. His logo is a teddy bear in a hoodie and has been described as having an “approachable sweetness”.